There are very few food and wine matches that work as well as Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt of the Bentley Group. Savage's food and Hildebrandt's wine offerings rarely jostle for position, but work together to elevate each other.
Spurred on by their 2005 Good Food Guide awards of Chef of the Year and Sommelier of the Year, they went into business together, opening some of Sydney's most pioneering restaurants. Bentley Restaurant + Bar, Monopole, Yellow and Cirrus are all known for the synthesis of their food and wine.
Now they've bravely decided to end 2020 by moving Monopole into the CBD, and launching Ria Pizza and Wine in the vacated Potts Point space, within weeks of each other.
Here at its new city home overlooking Australia Square, Monopole has gone from its darkly romantic schtick to a light and bright one, with windows thrown open to the fresh air.
Top Melbourne designer and long-time collaborator Pascale Gomes-McNabb has created a chic, sociable, cheerful sort of place, hung with oversized white paper lanterns and metallic Christopher Boots mobiles.
The room pops with colour and energy, and head chef Ben Parkinson and team move swiftly in the on-view kitchen, cleverly knitted into the fabric of the dining room.
The menu is supposed to be a simplified offering of the former Monopole's Frenchy-food-with-wine pitch, but I'm not convinced Brent Savage can bring himself to do simple.
A sausage, here, is a ropey coil of merguez with roasted fennel, precisely ringed with harissa ($32).
A snapper fillet on bolsters of soft leeks ($38) looks simple enough, yet the delicately steamed fish is bathed in such sweet, gentle, buttery, caper-studded, leeky juices it could have come from earth, and not ocean.
Even the snacks are quite rococo. Mini cucumbers are pressed with parsley oil, piped with smoked sour cream and bejewelled with salmon roe ($16 for four), and crisp little choux pastry cups are filled with gruyere cream and caramelised onions or silky-smooth chicken liver parfait (four for $15).
Another "simple" dish of vibrant green asparagus and creamy goat's curd ($19) sees the greens doused in a pickly carrot-and-onion escabeche dressing that charges it like jumper leads, and a lunchtime sando of smoked beef brisket – pressed, crumbed, fried and sandwiched with slaw in soft white bread – comes with bowls of fries, pickles and aioli ($22).
The strategy is more about hiding the complexity of the technique than taking a shortcut, then piling on the richness through umami and silky emulsions.
As for drinks, Americanos will soon be on tap, but for now, throw to Hildebrandt or one of the savvy floor staff.
You might get a cheap-as-chips 2018 Heretic White ($11/$50), a toasty, barrel-fermented savagnin (the vin jaune grape) from the Margaret River.
Help, I say, for my pretty dish of golden orecchiette with peas, green garlic and crunchy breadcrumbs ($28) that's like a spring minestrone without the soup.
A light red, says Hildebrandt, suggesting a soft and graceful 2017 Burgundian Passetoutgrain blend of two parts gamay and one part pinot noir from Nuits-Saint-Georges' Domaine Robert Chevillon ($26/$110).
Tip: Do your nose a favour and ask for Monopole's new "double bend" Mark Thomas glasses from Vienna.
Dessert is staring me in the face – a bowl of peaches on the kitchen counter. Roasted and crackling with toffee glaze, they're offset with an elegant almond ice-cream and crunchy vanilla praline ($16).
It's clearly not an ideal time to open in the central business district, but tell that to the buzzy crowd of Bentley fans raising their glasses to the signs of life.
Savage and Hildebrandt signed to take on the property pre-COVID and must have wondered what the hell they were doing, then went ahead and did it anyway.
That's the spirit we'll need to make 2021 rock 'n' roll. Here's to ending the year with a bang, and not with the whimper it could have been.
Address: 20 Curtin Place, Sydney, 02 8080 9144, monopolesydney.com.au
Open: Lunch Wed-Fri from noon; dinner Tue-Sat from 5pm; bar menu Wed-Fri 3-5pm
Vegetarian: A good handful of sophisticated vegetarian dishes across the menu.
Drinks: Well-made cocktails, craft beers and the kind of provocative, opinionated wine list we've come to expect from Nick Hildebrandt, with a clear focus on French and Australian.
Cost: About $140 for two, plus drinks.
Score: Scoring will recommence in 2021.